Penn researchers develop technology to improve computer networks


Gencore Systems uses an intelligence layer to fix software problems


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Gencore Systems, co-founded by Boon Thau Loo, automatically checks through data to find and fix performance problems.



From research to startup, a Penn team is hoping to improve computer software by taking humans out of the equation.

Professor of computer and information science, Boon Thau Loo, co-founded Gencore Systems with former Penn students from his research group after conducting six years of computer science research on how to make computer networks run more efficiently.

Now, the Gencore team — containing 10 people who have all studied or worked at Penn — has created a technology that does just that, the team says.

While usually engineers have to constantly monitor the large amounts of data that make websites and computer apps run smoothly, Gencore’s technology automatically checks through the data to find and fix performance problems. The Gencore team even developed a new programming language to make the technology work.

“The most expensive part of maintaining software is the human cost of making sure it runs at tip top performance by providing defense against real attacks,” Loo said. “We build an intelligence layer in the software to fix the problems in real time and take the human out of the loop.”

Gencore is part of a much larger systematic change taking place in the world of technology startups, the enthusiastic team members said. Now, companies are relying on complex software, like computer programs that collect large amounts of data, and are moving away from complex hardware — physical products that may have to be repaired or changed over time.

“If something’s wrong with the physical technology, you have to open up the product and try to figure out what’s wrong,” fellow team member and 2014 Wharton and Engineering graduate Charu Jangid said. “It’s not easy to hook up the parts together. You can reprogram software, but hardware is a lot more challenging.”

With the growing amount of data that companies rely on to maintain their products, Gencore is working to make the data easier to manage.

But putting this idea into practice is harder than it looks, Loo said. After spending years trying to build the product in Penn laboratories, turning the research into a startup and marketing it to customers is a separate challenge.

The company officially spun off from the University in January 2014, and is currently piloting for an east coast Internet Service Provider to test portions of the technology, in preparation for taking their product to market.

“It’s very rewarding to take what we’ve learned for so long in school and apply it in the real world,” said co-founder Harjot Gill. “It’s a very different setting that requires us to think about the customer base.”

Gill, a once-Penn PhD student, dropped out to work at Gencore full time.

“I have hand-picked this team very carefully,” Loo said, looking around the room to his teammates. “They are the best of my students and researchers. They probably all had the opportunity to take on better paying jobs, but they’re here because they really believe in this.”

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